During your studies, you do not want to waste your time. However, many students (including me) spend hours trying to fall asleep or get poor quality sleep and, as a consequence, have to sleep longer to compensate for that. Therefore, a lot of precious time is lost because of improper sleep.
Some of you might say “just sleep less”, but as discussed in our prior article – sleep is critical to your success as a student and you should never compromise on it. Thus, the solution is not to sleep less, but to optimize your sleep as much as possible.
So how do you get better sleep at university and make sure that every second spent in bed is a second spent well?
Here is a list of 15 scientifically-backed tips that will help you fall asleep faster and have better sleep overall:
- No caffeine after 10:00 am
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine, especially late in the evening
- Avoid naps late in the evening
- Sleep in a proper environment – DARK, COLD, SILENT, WELL VENTILATED, CLEAN
- Try to have a consistent sleep schedule
- Have a bedtime ritual
- No screens 30 minutes before bedtime
- No heavy evening meals
- Don’t drink too many fluids in the evening
- Exercise regularly, but do it at least 2 hours before you go to sleep
- If can’t you fall asleep in 20 minutes go and do something relaxing
- Keep bed sacred – only for sleep or sex
- Don’t look at the clock
- Make sure your mattress and pillow are comfortable
- Consider taking melatonin and other supplements
Footnote: The tips are to some extent ranked in order of importance, with the more useful tips listed at the top of the list and less helpful tips at the bottom. Also, in this article, I will not bother you with sleep jargon, because I am not that familiar with it myself. However, whenever I am referring to a better quality of sleep I am referring either to increasing the amount of the so-called “deep sleep” or REM sleep.
1. No caffeine after 10:00 am
It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the majority of students are addicted to coffee. I, myself, am an avid coffee drinker and have classmates who drink more than 4 cups of coffee per day.
However, according to Matthew Walker, the director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, caffeine can be detrimental to your sleep schedule. Not only, because it makes it harder to fall asleep, but also because it significantly reduces the quality of your sleep.
The solution is to not consume any caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, energy drinks and some pain relievers) after 10:00 am. The rationale behind this rule is quite simple – it may take up to 12 hours for most effects of caffeine wear off (see the video below). Thus, you should only take your coffee in the morning if you want to have good night’s sleep.
Of course, the 10:00 am cut-off point for consuming caffeine is an arbitrary one, because some sources say that you should not take any caffeine only 6 hours before going to bed. However, my suggestion is to go with the 10AM RULE since this is a personal habit that I have found to be effective.
2. Avoid alcohol and nicotine, especially before bed
Similarly, like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine interfere with your sleep and significantly reduces your sleep quality.
Regarding nicotine, the case is rather straightforward, if you do not smoke – then this wouldn’t be a problem for you But if you do smoke try to avoid smoking before sleep or late in the evening as much as possible (at least 1 or 2 hours before bed).
Similarly alcohol, although it makes it easier to fall asleep, significantly reduces the quality of your sleep – you tend to wake up more times during the night (although you do not notice it).
Of course, you might say that alcohol is part of the university experience, but my recommendation is not to overdo it. Also, I have seen cases wherein people can party without alcohol – maybe you can find a way to do it as well.
3. Avoid naps late in the evening
Naps are instrumental to many students and are not necessarily bad. However, with great power comes great responsibility – if you do not know how to take proper naps or if you take them too late in the day you can really mess up your sleep schedule.
So what to do? Well follow these 2 main guidlines:
Firstly, do not nap longer than 20 minutes, keep your naps as short as possible. If you nap too long you can go into deeper stages of sleep, which can really mess up your sleep schedule.
Secondly, do not nap late in the evening. According to Harvard Medical School, you should not take naps after 5 pm.
4. Sleep in a proper environment – DARK, COLD, SILENT, WELL VENTILATED, CLEAN
The environment in which you sleep can have a significant impact on your sleep quality and how long it takes for you to fall asleep.
Of course, as students, we do not always have the luxury to choose where we sleep – often we have to share our rooms, or have to sleep on a couch or in some other shit place because we can’t afford anything better (believe me I have been there – I was sleeping on a shitty couch in a shared dorm room for about 2 years).
With that being said to the best of your ability you should make sure that your sleep environment meets several factors (all the factors are taken from a Harvard’s Medical School guide to better sleep):
Firstly, it is dark. According to The National Sleep Foundation, your body reacts to light, and sleeping in a dark environment can significantly boost your sleep quality.
“The darker it is, the better” Lawrence Epstein, M.D.
So make your room as dark as possible (get good curtains if you can, wear a sleep mask, put some stickers on all small LEDs that are always on like the router or TV). It should be so dark that you should not see your hands once you look at them.
Secondly, it is mildly cold. According to a study, the optimal temperature for sleep should be between 60°F and 67°F (15.6°C and 19.4°C). Your body generally needs to cool down for sleep and having a mildly cold room can help out with that. You could achieve this by trying out several things:
- Programming your thermostat to be cooler during night
- Getting an air conditioner
- Ventilate your room, by keeping your windows open
- During warmer times use a fan to ventilate the room
- Use light and cool bedding and clothes to bed
- Take a lukewarm shower before going to bed
- Avoid exercising just before going to bed as this can raise your body temperature
Thirdly, it is silent. According to Lawrence Epstein, M.D. at Harvard Medical School, it is important to sleep in a quiet environment. If you are often woken up by unwanted noise (unwanted calls, loud neighbors etc.) this can really disturb your sleep. You could try get some cheap foam earplugs and sleep with them or try listening to white noise while sleeping.
Fourthly, it is well ventilated. Nothing groundbreaking here – you need to breathe while you sleep. So open your widows and ventilate your room before sleep.
Fifthly, it is clean. A survey by the National Sleep Foundation has revealed that there is a relationship between sleepiness and the cleanness in your room.
Clean room = better sleep
Generally, we recommend to:
- have clean bed sheets (change them on a weekly or semi weekly basis)
- make your bed every day
- not have any clutter in your room
- clean your room
- have a nice scent in your room
5. Try to have a consistent sleep schedule
Our bodies follow a certain rhythm (circadian rhythm). If you keep changing your waking and bed times, this will throw off your body off balance. According to Harvard Medical School it is important to have a set waking and bed times as this helps to set your body’s “internal clock”.
Essentially you have to go to bed and wake up at the same time because then it will be easier to fall asleep and wake up. Of course, this applies to weekends as well – stay consistent!
Here are some actionable steps that you can take to implement this tip:
- Figure out how long you should sleep and when you should go to bed – read this great article to learn how to do that.
- Set an alarm for the time when you have to go to bed
- Do not snooze, if you want to stop snoozing I recommend using an app like alarmy
6. Have a relaxing bedtime ritual
Having a relaxing routine before going to bed can help to ease your body into sleep. Also, before going to bed it is important to avoid stressful stimulating activities as stress (to be more precise cortisol) can make it harder to fall asleep.
You can make the routine your own as different things work for different people. With that being said here are some suggestions that have helped other people:
- Do some light reading
- Have a relaxing shower or a bath
- Try meditating (there are apps like Calm or Headspace for that)
- Listen to bedtime story (there are apps like Calm or Headspace for that)
- Do some yoga (here is a cool article by Harvard Medical School on that)
- Dim the lights if you can
- Stop using electronic devices or looking at the screens
- Drink some camomile tea.
7. No screens 30 minutes before bedtime
According to Sleep.org the blue light that is emitted by the screens of electronic devices suppresses the production of melatonin, which makes it harder to fall asleep. Moreover, electronic devices due to the constant notifications and other engaging activities keep your brain alert and make it harder to relax.
The solution is to use apps like fluxthat reduce the blue light emitted by your devices and most importantly to stop using these devices before going to bed.
Sleep.org suggests not using any electronic devices at least 30 minutes before going to bed. This is great because you could use these 30 minutes for your bedtime ritual.
Lastly, to help your circadian rhythm even more, during the day you should increase your exposure to daylight as this signals to your body that you should be awake during the day.
8. No heavy evening meals
According to Harvard Medical School: “Eating a pepperoni pizza at 10 p.m. may be a recipe for insomnia.”
You should finish your dinner several hours before you go to sleep. You can eat some snacks but make sure that they are easy to digest. Of course, different people might react to the same food differently, so snack on what works for you.
9. Don’t drink too many fluids in the evening
If you drink lots and lots of fluids before you go to bed, you will not have calm sleep since you will be constantly waking up to go to the bathroom.
Of course, this does not mean that you should stop drinking fluids. Rather you should look for a balance – don’t drink too much since you will be awakened and don’t drink too little since you will feel extremely thirsty.
10. Exercise regularly, but do it at least 2 hours before you go to sleep
Exercising regularly has been shown to help to regulate your circadian rhythm, making your internal clock more regular. Moreover, it can boost your overall fitness allowing to breath better, which allows for better sleep. Lastly, it also can reduce the risk of insomnia-causing depression.
So exercising is great, the only caveat is not to do it 2-3 hours before bedtime as it could interfere with sleep. Of course, this does not mean that you have to suddenly go to the gym and start lifting weights.
Most of the studies recommend a manageable 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day – this can be going for a brisk walk, swimming, stair climbing, tennis, dancing, etc. Thus, everyone (even nerds like me) can do it!
11. If you can’t fall asleep in 20 minutes go and do something relaxing
If for some sort of reason you have been in your bed for 20 minutes and are still not asleep you should leave the bed, go to another room, and engage in some relaxing activity. Once you feel sleepy go to bed once again.
Although it might sound rather counter-intuitive, this tip is recommended by Harvard Medical School and has worked for many people. So give it a shot!
12. Keep your bed sacred – only for sleep or sex
Your bed should be primary for sleep. If you start engaging in non-sleep related activities such as work or watching movies, you will might it find it difficult to fall asleep. Ultimately, you want your brain to associate bed only with sleep or sex, which should allow you to fall asleep rather quickly.
Footnote: This is also the main reason for why you should leave your bed if you cant fall asleep in 20 minutes.
13. Don’t look at the clock
For many people looking at the clock while they are awake in the middle of the night can be rather stressful. As a result, of this stress, you might find it more difficult to fall asleep. Thus, don’t look at the clock!
14. Make sure your mattress and pillow are comfortable
While your mattress and pillow are not the most important factors for your sleep they do play a role. According to several studies, a good mattress and a pillow can help you to relax better, reduce your back pain and enhance sleep overall. However, choosing the the right mattress and bed is quite difficult and is subject to your own preferences.
15. Consider taking melatonin and other supplements
Melatonin is a popular sleep aid that has helped many people (including me) to fall asleep faster. So if you need that extra help to fall asleep it might just cut it. Of course, you should use it responsibly like any other supplement.
Besides melatonin there are other supplements that might help you to have better sleep:
- Ginkgo biloba
- Valerian root
Once again its your own responsibility to use these carefully.
Bonus tip: If all these steps do not work try seeing a health professional
If you tried everything in this list and still are having problems with your sleep, then you should definitely see a health professional regarding this issue. It might be the case that you have some sort of sleep disorder that requires special treatment.
If you follow these 15 tips, you should have the most optimal sleep – you will fall asleep fast and will have high-quality sleep. Also, to get a more holistic plan on how to have great sleep as a student see our Ultimate Guide to Sleep for a University Student.